Back on Track ‘Horse Therapy’: My Horse, My Salvation

Reader Vanessa Spanvill shares her story.


Vanessa and her horse, Fable

Growing up I was always a happy child. I was full of energy and excitement, ready to take on every new adventure. Mine was a life of joy and happiness, until my entire world was turned upside down. Shortly after my 10th birthday my father, my best friend, passed away, leaving me with an emptiness so intense that I wished I could have gone with him.

Things only became worse when only a month later I became very ill myself. I was taken to dozens of doctors and specialists, poked and prodded, diagnosed with everything from juvenile arthritis to depression, even being told by one doctor that all the pain I was feeling was all in my head. It wasn’t until I was 13 that a doctor finally came up with a diagnoses that fit with all the symptoms I had been experiencing for the last three years. Constant exhaustion no matter how much I slept, the overwhelming pain in all of my joints, the headaches and recurring sore throats; the doctor finally put a name to them all – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

For three years the combination of depression from losing my father and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome had worn me down. I was unable to go to school or participate in normal activities. I spent most of my time sleeping or just lying in bed, trying to cope the best I knew how. It wasn’t until by best friend at the time invited me to her weekly riding lesson that I found my salvation. I went home and begged my mom to let me taking riding lessons, and soon I got my wish.

I’ll never forget that first day; the smell of hay mixed with the musky sweet smell of horse sweat and leather, the smell that gives all equestrians a rush. After that first lesson I knew that I belonged in a barn. I was able to get outside and feel free when I was on the back of a horse. I felt like a normal kid again!

Years later, after countless hours in the saddle and cleaning stalls, I was given a beautiful black filly as a high school graduation present. I knew she was something special the first day I met her, her long, spindly legs stretched out in the shavings, not even opening her eyes as I knelt down beside her.

Now, 10 years after that first meeting, that black filly, Fable, has taught me more than I ever expected. She has taught me patience and trust. She has taught me acceptance and courage. But more importantly she has given me hope and helped me get through the hardest times in my life. Fable has given me my life back, and in return I have made a pact to give her the best care and endless love, because I know that without her I could never have made it this far in life.

Here at Horse Nation, we believe that the best therapists are our own horses. We love sharing the stories of special equines and the lessons horses have taught us — email yours to [email protected] to be featured in an upcoming edition of Back on Track “Horse Therapy.” Go Back on Track, and Go Riding!

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